Thursday 24 January 2019

Donegal must be a doubt to deliver

The curtain is about to come down on the football season. Or is it? Would you safely rule out a draw game? Didn't think so, and thus we might have to be ready to do it all again in early October.

This All-Ireland football final really is that finely balanced. Just like the 2013, 2012, 2011 and 2010 versions! When it gets to the last two in football, you find it hard to slip a cigarette paper between them.

In truth, the football season only took off when we reached the last four but what an explosion of drama, excitement, tension and physical confrontations we got.

In particular, the two-game Kerry versus Mayo battle - for that is what it was in a sporting context - really changed the direction of the championship. The replay in Limerick had everything that attracts us to the game with more than enough controversy to last an entire season.

When Donegal blasted Dublin out of contention the next day, we had ended up with a final pairing that nobody I read or listened to had predicted at the beginning of the season, the mid-season interval or, in fact, prior to the quarter finals. That says everything, really, about this surprise pairing - nobody saw it coming until it had arrived.

Can Donegal win this final and achieve immortality among their own people?

Presently, Donegal's reputation as a smashing team is safe. They came from nowhere and grabbed all before them in 2012 and now stand on the cusp of two All-Ireland wins in three years, while three Ulsters in four are already procured.

For sure they can win this final, and slated at 8/11 they are the bookmakers' favourites.

But will they win it and how will they win it are the more difficult questions to answer.

For a start, Donegal will probably need to repeat the semi-final defensive performance, and in particular their protection of Paul Durcan's net.

The Donegal 'keeper is a shoo-in for this years All Star award at No1 and if he stops anything passing him and Kerry fail to score a goal or two, I simply cannot see the Kingdom winning this one.

But my guess is Kerry will slot a few - for more on why I think so, see the article opposite.

From the Donegal perspective, two men are key for Sunday and both must have the game of their lives to help bring Sam back to the Hills.

On the pitch, Michael Murphy just needs to do what he is doing and play brilliantly.

Off the field, Jim McGuinness needs another outstanding performance in game management. Most likely both men will not disappoint.

But for the entire team there will be a massive physical and mental requirement to produce as they did against Dublin, and I remain unsure that they can do it.

Up to the semi-final win over the Dubs, this Donegal team was only chugging along and for sure, to win an All-Ireland, one swallow will not make a summer.

I need to be sure they can repeat that penultimate-round excellence before I can give them the nod, and just now, I am not convinced.

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